How to Make a Chinese Dragon Costume

The Chinese dragon is a national costume with international appeal

Whether for the Lunar new year or any cool party, you might want to know how to make a Chinese dragon costume for a group to dance and have fun in. The good news is that you don't have to be steeped in the history and tradition in order to create a vibrant and beautiful costume.

How to Make a Chinese Dragon Costume

The Chinese dragon, a symbol of goodness and fertility, is a mainstay of every Chinese New Year celebration. The traditional costume is meant to be worn by eight or more dancers, who perform an elaborate, highly choreographed dance.

The head is the most important element of the costume. It comprises the eyes of a rabbit, ears of a cow and horns of a stag. The costume is most often red, with splashes of gold and pink.

Although the traditional costume is for a group, you can also find patterns for dragon costumes to be worn by an individual, or even a dog.

Patterns for the costume are not readily available. Learning how to make a Chinese dragon costume involves patience and a skilled hand at crafts, as well as a good eye.

Start off by studying images of Chinese dragon costumes. Since the head is the most important element, begin that first and give it the most of your time and concentration. The head is traditionally made with papier mache on a wire frame, and if you don't remember how to work with papier mache, be sure you practice on a dummy head before beginning the real thing. It is not hard, but it does require skill and care to do well. Once the head is built, the fun really begins. You can use fabric markers or paint to decorate it. Fabric paint will usually yield a more striking look. Remember to emphasize the bold and large. The mouth should be large - mostly so that the person inside the head can see out - as should be the eyes. As you can see from studying assorted images, you can play with design, creating scales and the like. Spend the most time on the eyes, to give your dragon a strong expression.

Making the Body

If you like, you can stop here and dress the person wearing the head in red and you don't have to have other participants. But for a traditional costume, you now need to construct the body. You want to have three or more feet between each person, so use pliable plastic piping (or something cooler if you can find it) a foot in diameter and measure carefully. Wrap the piping in a red fabric to match the head and secure with glue. You can also use muslin and then more fabric paint to paint the body and draw scales. Remember to add contrasting colors. Don't decorate the underside until you have cut holes for the people to stand inside. Cut discreet holes at the top as well to allow for maximum breathability.

Because learning how to make a traditional Chinese dragon costume is so labor intensive, many people look for ways to get the idea without making as much effort. If you are making a dragon costume for a child, for example, you might just build the top of the head and top teeth on a pre-existing hat and then make up your child's face in red and gold. Instead of papier mache, in this case, you can use fabric and plain balls for eyes which you then paint. You can use cut out fabric or even cardboard for the teeth and a simple pattern for cow ears to make the ears. Since the ears are so simple, draft the child into cutting and decorating them. You can also get yellow felt and cut triangles to give your little dragon spiky scales. Dancing optional.

How to Make a Chinese Dragon Costume